Chris Taylor's first novel, Harvest Season, tells the story of some foreigners who find Shangri-la in a valley in western China, and then ruin it for everyone. The beginning of the story finds Matt, the narrator, living in Shuangshan, a village populated by people of the (fictional) Wu minority, Chinese artists, and slacker laowai. Matt and his friends have been occupied mainly with consuming large quantities of beer and marijuana until, with a gust of cold air, an abrasive Australian blows into Shuangshan with big plans. He's going to open a guesthouse outside town that will attract the kind of hard-partying clientele more usually found on certain beaches in southeast Asia—a plan that seems unlikely to go down well with the locals. Making conflict even less evitable, our narrator finds himself almost instantly attracted to Alex's dreadlocked Chinese girlfriend, A-hong.
This reader found the love-triangle setup a little cliché, and an early visit Matt and his friend make to a Wu shaman, who tells their opaque fortunes using the blood of a freshly-killed chicken, seemed like paint-by-numbers foreshadowing. But the story held my attention, and delivered some unexpected turns.
Taylor, a former guidebook writer who lives in Yunnan, says that Harvest Season is the first English-language novel set in southwest China and describes it as "capturing the uncertainty and paranoia beneath the surface of contemporary China." It's an interesting and unusual portrait of the kind of expat/long-term backpacker communities found in many corners of Asia, aspects of which may seem painfully familiar to residents of Chengdu. And at just over 200 pages, it's a quick read.
Harvest Season is available for purchase at the Bookworm for RMB120. Chris Taylor will appear at the Bookworm's International Literary Festival at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 5. Tickets are RMB50, but registered GoChengdoo readers can enter to win a pair by sending us a message with the subject line "Harvest Season" and your name, registered GoChengdoo username, and mobile number in the body of the message by 10 p.m. tonight (Friday, March 4). The winner will be contacted via e-mail and SMS by noon on Saturday.
For further reading, see Danwei's interview with Taylor. (requires proxy).
Photo of Chris Taylor by Yereth Jansen.
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